Oblates widen access to personal files related to Residential Schools

(St. Peter's Bascilica image from 123rf.com)

By Catholic Register staff

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] – Ahead of Pope Francis’ journey to Canada, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immcaulate have retired their longstanding practice of keeping personnel files secret until 50 years after the death of an Oblate Father or Brother.

A new policy of “accountable access to personnel files” is part of an agreement with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) worked out over the past year.

“Critical to our truth and reconciliation efforts to show transparency has been the availability of our records,” Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate Lacombe provincial superior Fr. Ken Thorson said in a release. “I am hopeful that these steps will allow access to personnel records in every Canadian province as soon as legally possible.”

Since July 5 last year the Oblates have been working with the NCTR to make it easier for Indigenous communities, survivors, researchers and journalists to pull together widely dispersed information about how the residential schools were run over more than a century of partnership with the federal government.

Catholic entities ran about 60 per cent of the schools covered by the 2006 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement between the government, churches and approximately 86,000 survivors of the system. The Indian residential school system ran between 1879 and 1997. The Oblates operated 48 schools, including Ermineskin Indian Residential School in Alberta, where Pope Francis will visit July 25.

As part of its agreement with the NCTR, the Oblates have opened access to its archives in Rome.

“Access to these records is critical to learning the full history and impact of residential schools, as we work to honour survivors, their families and the children who did not make it home,” NCTR executive director Stephanie Scott said in a release.

Together the Oblates and the NCTR are arranging to have the records digitized so they can be searched and accessed. Over the last year 10,000 Oblate records have been digitized and inventoried — adding to the 40,000 records the Oblates had previously transferred to the NCTR. Forty-one daily logs for 16 schools, also known as codices, have been digitized, with more codices in the pipeline.

In the last year, access to the Oblate records has been facilitated for 165 requests by inter-generational survivors, researchers and journalists.

The Oblates have also reached agreements with four provincial archives to transfer residential school records to the NCTR and more such agreements are expected.